After an excellent London Folk Festival at Cecil Sharp House, we will be showcasing this week some of outstanding artists on the day. First up is the very talented Hannah James with the sublime 'The Carpenter' from her newly released and unique solo album 'JigDoll'.
Most professional musicians spend their early lives squirrelled away in bedrooms, practising scales and honing their stagecraft until a lucky breakthrough. But a happy combination of prowess, passion and precociousness has seen Hannah James grow and evolve very much in the public eye, as she begins a new chapter as a solo performer.
An early introduction to folk dance and music through her parents saw Hannah take up clog, Appalachian step, Irish dance, theatre dance and tap, before picking up the accordion aged eleven. Undaunted and eager, she can still remember her first solo performance: ‘Tantika’ by Jo Freya at the Beehive Folk Club in Harthill, Sheffield. It is the place where she cut her teeth, and it still remains her favourite folk club.
Spending her teenage years at the Fosbrooks Folk Education Trust in Stockport, she emerged a confident, talented dancer, musician and singer. A chance meeting with prodigious fiddler, Sam Sweeney, at Derby’s In The Tradition Award led to the formation of 'Kerfuffle', a band which went on to enjoy five albums and a hectic touring schedule over almost a decade, despite its constituents being in their early to mid-teens.
Her duo with Sam emerged from the ashes of the young band and the two became a permanent fixture on the folk circuit, nominated for the Horizon Award and Best Duo at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2010 and 2013. The duo released two albums, Catches And Glees (2009) and State And Ancientry (2012) and have only recently announced their hiatus, much to the disappointment of their loyal following.
But that’s not all: Hannah’s versatility and dexterity has meant that she frequently invited to collaborate and contribute. She has a duo with archaeologist and researcher, Alistair Vannan, and has appeared with The Demon Barber Roadshow and their touring dance show Time Gentlemen Please (later The Lock In). She has frequently featured with Maddy Prior and her band, and Hell Said The Duchess, her accordion trio with Beckie Price and Karen Tweed. She has contributed to albums and live shows by the Levellers, Bella Hardy, Spiers and Boden, and Fay Hield.
Lady Maisery, her Horizon Award nominated trio with Hazel Askew and Rowan Rheingans, is an important recent addition to Hannah’s already impressive portfolio. Taking influence from global traditions, the trio interpret material thoughtfully with impossibly close harmonies and unexpected instrumentation, and have showcased a commitment to the age-old tradition of tune-singing, or diddling. Their albums, Weave And Spin (2011), Mayday (2013) and Cycle (2016), have garnered an enthusiastic reception, including topping the ‘Top 10 releases of the summer’ chart on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction and being named ‘Top of the World’ album by Songlines.
A keen listener to Hannah’s music will notice that her influences are wide ranging, and not bound to the British Isles. Her interest in Scandinavian music has seen her study at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and her knowledge of global musical traditions has been enhanced through her participation in the Ethno camp movement, both as a student and teacher.
Downtime between tours is usually spent offering clog, voice and accordion lessons from her home in North West England.
Her new solo debut album 'JigDoll' was released on 2nd September.